The broken immigration system may make this my last Mother’s Day.
My name is Anagh Kulkarni. I’m currently a rising junior at the Ohio State University majoring in biomedical science and minoring in business.
I’m a Buckeye football fan, the little voice in my head only really knows English, and before it got drilled into my brain through my O-Chem classes (Thanks Dr. Bong), if someone gave me a temperature in Celsius, I’d have to convert it to Fahrenheit before I knew whether it was hot or cold. Having resided in this country for 18 years, I consider myself an American.
However, I’m also a Documented Dreamer.
My parents brought me to this country when I was two. Both of them were first generation immigrants, leaving behind their entire families, their country, and all sense of familiarity for the sole purpose of my future. The American schooling system was revered throughout the world, and in order to allow me to experience such an education, my parents sacrificed everything that they had.
As a non-permanent resident, my dad was forced to be flexible with his job, a consequence of which was a frequent changing of cities and schools. Moving around as a young child is difficult. Adjusting to a new home, new people, and a new environment every couple of years was something that I eventually grew used to, but for a long time I struggled with attachment. Even to this day, I have to work hard to encourage myself to maintain connections with distanced peers.
But I don’t want to get all gloomy. As it stands, I do fondly remember my young life albeit in distinct segments, each with memories that I wish to re-experience, places I wish to revisit and people with whom I would love to reconnect.
After toddlerhood in Boston, my family moved to an apartment in Jersey City, NJ (save the complaints, Jersey’s not that bad, guys). I fondly remember my friends from then: Bryce, Alex, Shania, CiCi, Yash… and even my kindergarten crush, a girl named Anastasia. We moved again to Dublin (Ohio, not Ireland) for a couple of years, and finally, my dad received a job offer that would allow us to settle down in one location, an offer that put us in the city that I, to this day, consider home: Mason, Ohio.
Mason was where I completed my education from 5th-12th grade. It was where I chipped my first tooth, drove my first car, and had my first kiss — sorry Mom — Mason was where I really grew up. And Mason was when I first got a hint that my journey was not going to be like most.
The first wake-up call was at 16, when I started looking for a summer job to buy myself a nicer laptop for school. I realized then that as a H4 child dependent without a work permit, I couldn’t legally be paid. I remember myself thinking that “woah, that sucks”, but by this time, I still hadn’t fully comprehended my situation, so I decided to instead dedicate my energy to my academics and extracurriculars, ending up graduating high-school with a 4.97 cGPA, a perfect 36 ACT score, and a National Merit title.
I participated in community service, putting over 200 hours into my local hospital as a volunteer. I became the captain for the public forum event in my debate team, and ended up qualifying to Nationals as a senior after winning nearly all of the regional tournaments that year. I’d played competitive chess for almost a decade now, and my list of achievements grew longer, as I consecutively placed in the top 10 in my grade at nationals.
Bear with me here, because I don’t mention all of these things as a way to brag into the wind. I’m fully aware that I’m not unique in this regard; there are millions of kids with equal and greater stories of success through high school. I mention these things to truly illustrate my drive; I had a raging thirst for accomplishment. I wanted to shoot my shot at every hoop. I wanted to succeed. But even more than that, I wanted to make my parents proud.
It was here in high school that I first developed my interest in medicine. While doing research for a debate tournament, I found myself unable to stop reading about the inequities that existed throughout the healthcare system. Insurance was ineffective, drug prices were exorbitant, and people were suffering. Increasing not only the quantity of treatments, but their accessibility was a less coveted part of healthcare, and someday I hoped to change that.
With these thoughts in mind, I started applying to colleges. However, as I spoke to university representatives, I found out that almost none of my efforts thus far held any value. Because my visa status classified me as an “international student”, I would be automatically disqualified from any merit-based scholarships, financial aid, or in some cases, even in-state tuition. And I suppose it’s no surprise that in a world where college tuition is growing faster than Mom’s tomato plants (yes, politicians, that’s a shot at you), a jobless high-school graduate with no personal savings has limitations.
The environment in my home slowly grew dreary. Conversations about my family’s pending green card had permeated the household for years now, but it was at this point that I started understanding why they always seemed to be accompanied by an aura of hopelessness.
That being said, I was fortunate enough to qualify for an exceptional pre-medicine program at the Ohio State University, and after a back-and-forth with administration, secured in-state tuition as well. I became heavily involved at OSU, pursuing every opportunity that I could to further my aspirations. Even though I still couldn’t qualify for jobs or internships, I decided to get involved in volunteering-based organizations so that I could still give back to my community.
I joined an organization called SciThinkers, where my role was to develop science lessons that we then delivered to inner-city schools. I started tutoring for an organization called ClassMates, designed to help disadvantaged students that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. I became heavily involved in my cancer research lab, in which one project explored the impact of racial and economic disparities on rates of breast cancer. I joined ENCompass, an organization that focuses on helping impoverished community members with financial factors that influence the efficacy of their medical treatments.
I’m involved in all of these organizations to this day, and they have only strengthened my resolve to pursue making a change to the healthcare system. But I know, I know. You can’t just dress up in a lab coat and don a stethoscope and instantly become a doctor these days — you gotta go to medical school. But in even this, I’m faced with the stark reality of my situation.
The unavoidable knock-out punch that’s currently slowly floating towards my face is in the form of a couple of statistics. A study by InGenius Prep of AAMC data shows that two-thirds of medical schools in the United States just straight up do not accept international students. Further damning is the fact that the acceptance rate for international students nationally is around 8%, a stark contrast from the 41% that domestic students face.
That’s it. That’s the fist that’s going to knock me right out of the country.
As of last January, I’m twenty. I dread growing any older. While turning 21 is generally a celebration of adulthood, for me, it’s more akin to an expiration date. At 21, I age out of my status. And now that I’m mere months away, I find myself wondering if there is any point to the hundreds and thousands of hours that I’ve worked to make myself a valuable member of society. This Mother’s day was a bittersweet one; I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the last time my visa status would allow me to celebrate the holiday with my mom.
In moments of weakness, I often find myself in a cycle of despair, losing more motivation with every passing month, finding it difficult to focus on my grades, my involvements, and my goals. I have two questions that often fall on deaf ears. “What did I do to deserve this,” has no answer, and “Why does anything matter anymore,” struggles to escape the quick “It doesn’t” that follows.
And yet, I’ve not given up my dreams. My parents didn’t raise me to be a quitter, and I owe it to them to keep swimming. As an active member of Improve The Dream, I will fight to make sure that the hundreds of thousands of kids like me don’t have to undergo the same struggle that I have to this point. I fight for my future, but I also fight for theirs.
Improve The Dream is a youth-led advocacy organization bringing awareness for over 200,000 children of long-term visa holders who face self-deportation, despite growing up in the United States with a documented status.
If you know someone who is a Documented Dreamer, please share the following link so they can join our advocacy community to stay updated and connect with other Documented Dreamers: ImproveTheDream.org/survey.